With the lockout finally over and the start of the 2011 NFL season drawing near, it's time to start eying your top targets for your fantasy football draft.
The Browns are a tough team to analyze from a fantasy perspective this season because so many of their players are young and inexperienced, making them largely unknown commodities when it comes to their potential fantasy football value.
Still, there are a few Browns players who do appear to be valuable impact players in fantasy for the coming season. Following are four Browns you should be targeting in your 2011 fantasy football draft, as well as a rundown of the honorable-mention types the Browns have to offer who might come cheap and result in a big payoff if you're willing to take a bit of a risk.
Note that the rankings and stat projections used in this article come from CBSsports.com. A complete list of their projections can be found here.
Please feel free to add any additional Browns players who you think have good fantasy football value in the comments below!
If you're the superstitious type, you'll probably be shying away from Peyton Hillis in the early rounds of your fantasy football draft this season, possible Madden curse and all.
But if your faith is not so easily shaken, then Hillis is probably the team's top fantasy target.
Projections for Hillis in 2011 are: 208 carries, 937 rushing yards, and eight touchdowns.
Those numbers predict a drop in the stats for Hillis from last season, when he logged 270 carries, 1,177 rushing yards and 11 TDs.
The predictions of lesser stats for Hillis this season are not so much a reflection of a decline in Hillis' skills, but rather an indication that the Browns have built out some depth on offense and that Hillis won't have to shoulder the full load alone.
If you only want Hillis for fantasy, that's bad news. If you're a Browns fan, it's a relief because it means other players will contribute more and there's less chance Hillis has to survive the same kind of beating he had to take in 2010.
Even with the drop in numbers though, Hillis is still a very valuable fantasy commodity. I'd peg him as roughly a third-rounder, depending on how many RBs are already off the board at that point and how many your league allows you to carry.
Don't forget too that there's a hidden bonus with Hillis: He tends to stack up pretty decent receiving stats for a running back as well.
Colt McCoy is one of the tougher players on the team for whom to assess fantasy value, since he has just eight games of NFL experience to his name and will be playing in a new offensive system this year.
Here are the projections from CBSsports: 266 completions in 428 attempts, 3,047 yards, 16 TDs and 15 INTs. If I were a betting gal, I'd wager those numbers will be about on par. Left to my own devices, I'd been guessing at about 3,000 yards, 18 TDs and 14 INTs.
What was surprising though, was how low in the rankings those numbers landed McCoy. Obviously, we don't expect McCoy to be a top-five QB or even a top-10 QB. But these rankings actually placed him as the 26th-rated QB in the league.
Even taking into account my possible hometown bias, I thought that was pretty low for McCoy. I would have ranked him more like 19th.
Certainly a traditional West Coast offense doesn't often give a QB the opportunity for huge numbers, but it doesn't completely prevent them either. The Browns' reliance on their running game will be a factor too, though I still don't think that puts McCoy in the 26th slot in the league.
Obviously McCoy is still to an extent too green for us to really predict his numbers accurately, and the fact that the receiving corps is also a largely unknown commodity also affects our ability to nail down McCoy's projected totals.
Still, it's a safe bet that McCoy will be better than the ranking indicates. I wouldn't draft him as your team's starting QB of course, but I'd put him pretty high amongst the QBs left on the board when your league's contestants get around to drafting their backups.
Last season, TE Ben Watson was far and away the Browns' best receiver. This season we're hoping, for the sake of our WRs, that this is no longer the case.
Nevertheless, Watson did a standup job as a receiver in 2010 and should do well in 2011 also.
Projections for Watson are as follows: 52 receptions for 601 yards and 12 TDs. Not too shabby for a TE who isn't considered a true star at his position. In terms of rankings among TEs, that puts him 19th in the league. That seems a little low to me, but probably in the ballpark.
I would look strongly at Watson as a second-string TE, and if the Browns WRs can't deliver, his numbers will only go up. Watson did well in the red zone last season and should do so again this year even if the receivers improve, so he's a good bet if you're looking for TDs.
Perhaps the best thing Watson has to offer is reliability and consistency. He's never going to be a huge numbers kind of guy, but he's consistent and while he won't blow anyone's doors off with his stats, he's also unlikely to be a complete flop.
It's a little tough to nail down Josh Cribbs' fantasy value for the Browns this season, since they don't seem to be completely sure what position he's going to play. The odds say he'll be used in a multi-position role which makes him a good fantasy pickup in terms of versatility but makes it a bit confusing as to when exactly to draft him.
The rankings given for Cribbs are, in my opinion, exceptionally off-base. He's projected to post something like 200 yards and one touchdown, which is obviously a gross underestimation. This is probably the result of a flaw in the system due to confusion about where Cribbs will play rather than anyone's actual opinion of how Cribbs will fare. Those numbers put him in line to rank about 347th among WRs which is, quite frankly, ridiculous.
So the question is, what can we actually expect out of Cribbs? Again, that's tough to say considering we don't have any confirmation of what his role will be, but for the sake of argument we'll assume that he'll spend the bulk of his time at WR.
Given that, it seems reasonable to say that if Cribbs starts there regularly and stays healthy, he could post 700-800 yards and six or seven TDs, depending on how many attempts he gets based on how well his fellow Browns WRs perform.
There are two additional bonuses to drafting Cribbs that don't show up in the numbers: The first is the versatility factor that, if he does play multiple positions, could give his owner a number of options for how to use him according to what works best for his team. The second is that Cribbs is the kind of player who just makes things happen. As long as he's healthy, he's always a good bet to play better than predicted and therefore could be a good fantasy pickup at a bargain price.
The Browns have a number of players on their roster who have the potential to be low-risk/high-reward fantasy players. Many of them are unproven guys with little to no track record who probably won't cost you much in a fantasy draft but could pay off tremendously compared to their draft slot if they hit their potential.
At receiver, it would be worth taking a look at Brian Robiskie and rookie Greg Little in the later rounds. Robiskie should improve upon his 2010 totals with another year of experience under his belt and an offensive system that is more favorable to his skill set. Little, like almost all rookies, is mostly an unknown, though if he plays as well as it appears he can, he'll be a steal late in your draft.
At TE, keep an eye on Evan Moore. With Moore, the gamble is all about his health. He's been injury-prone, so you are taking a risk by picking him, but if he stays healthy and he's available late in the draft, the payoff will be huge. Moore's talent has never been the question. If he can stay off the IR, he'll be a big contributor at a low price.
Another health-risk player who could pay off if he can stay upright is RB Montario Hardesty. Given that he's yet to play a single down in the NFL during the regular season, the risk is pretty high. But if you can find him late in the draft, he could be worth a gamble. The odds he'll stay healthy aren't good, but if he does, he should pack a huge punch relative to his draft slot.
And finally, the last thing to keep an eye on for the Browns is their DST. The Browns defense isn't going to be among the best in the league and may struggle a bit early as it adjusts to the switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3, but they could be a great option if your league allows you to carry multiple DSTs or as a late-season pickup if you need help during a bye week or your starting DST has injury issues.